Testing

Roubaix SL3 S-Works

Roubaix is an industrial town in Northern France famous for hosting the finale to arguably the toughest and most prestigious one day bike race in the world. On the second Sunday of every April over 200 professional riders battle along a route of 260 plus kilometres including 20 bludgeoning secteurs of pave – ancient roman roads of stone more akin to a rock garden, than a modern road race. Both man and machine are pummelled by hammers from the depths of hell until the one rider stands above all; arms raised circling the heavenly smooth Velodrome. For all of cycling folklore these men are considered the real hard men. However (controversial rumours aside) with modern equipment I suggest that the rider most rested can have the greatest advantage.

Lyno's had electronic gears - he like that...

The refinement of Carbon fibre on bicycle frames has lead to a mind boggling array of multi-shaped tubes that are continually lighter, stiffer and more aerodynamic than their predecessors. Manufacturers have been taking extraordinary strides to improve their wind tunnel drag co-efficiencies and digital scale derived numbers in order to market their product against ever multiplying competition. Yet the one set of figures we most look for in a new ride is the unquantifiable ride quality – how nice it is to pedal.

The sexiest and most comfortable shaped stays in production

A few years back Specialized made a call to design a new model that could satisfy the stress of the European peloton and yet with stand the rigours of the bumpiest race on the calendar; leaving it’s riders fresh and fast enough to out last and out ride all their rivals. With it’s own unique curves and ‘Zertz’ dampening inserts, Specialized own ‘Roubaix’ is an engineering feat of unrivalled touch. It’s seat tube has up to 6mm of deflection! This bike has so much buit in compliance it has left both Spartacus and Tommeke with enough reserve to ride away for solo victories in the three previous Sunday’s in Hell. But it ain’t no throw away noodle, as a testimony it’s lasting strength Fabian then also used the very same ‘trophied’ frame again in this years most important flat stage of Tour de France featuring more brutal pave.

All new internal cabling is very clean - and Di2 ready, note the custom Milram pedals...

Lets get back to that unquantifiable ride quality. During a test ride of the latest evolution SL3 Roubaix impressions were quickly formed. In fact it was my riding buddy Lyno who prompted the response when he asked “What do you think?” and without taking time to mull it over my gut reaction was a quickly fired, “It’s the easiest bike I’ve ever ridden”. That made me pause and really take in what I’d just said as if to question it. Mmm it does fit like a glove, it is definitely comfortable, maybe I should find out some more… a pedestrian crossing 200m away was an easy target and from low speed  I threw the shifter across to select the big dog before launching with all thrust directed at the Bottom Bracket and heaving on the Handle Bars. The result was a leap in acceleration with light and swift, full blooded efficiency not unlike the most respected pure race bikes. Wow there is plenty of icing covering this cake. Sure footed, solid through corners, changes direction without argument, comfortable, fast… damn this bike.

So there’s the dilemma; I adore my euro rigs. I love their heritage and pedigree, the stories they can tell, the years of victories they’ve racked up. Yet here is a manufacturer born of the Mountain Bike performing with a technically far superior ride in every aspect on the road. Looking deep into my homeland and the rough roads of the South Island it was with honest eyes that I had to sign up – my first American road bike. It’ll still be two months before my S-Works SL3 gets delivered, and I’ll never be on the start line in Compiegne. But I’m maturing, wising up if you will. Stiffer and lighter is overrated – smoother IS faster.

Riding the future - butter smooth speed

Epic 29 S-Works

We'll call it Speed-Works, trust me at 9.6kg it ain't no Slouch-Works

I’ve done my fair share of Cross Country racing. At my roots, it’s the heart of my cycling “career”. And even though I’m a little older I still love my bikes stiff, hard and responsive. It’s taken me a long time to accept suspension in my life because for many years unless the trail was particularly rough and technical I always believed I’d be faster without it – enjoyment never came before speed.

New Top Tube and Rear end = Stiffness and Speed

That was then, and then was last week. S-Works in the Specialized world is the most advanced machine they produce and with its many victories around the world at the highest level the Epic has proven itself to be arguably the fastest XC bike on the planet (the 29 inch model as reviewed here took Todd Wells to his first National US Championship title just yesterday). The Epic is a no holds barred full suspension race bike, designed to get you around any cross country terrain faster than the competition. For 2011 the evolution continues; wider rear axle for greater torsional stiffness, revised seat/top tube junction for lighter weight and increased strength and Carbon Fibre Rims to lighten and stiffen up the 29 inch wheels. These alone help this machine to accelerate like a jet fighter yet deliver power, corner and smooth rocky terrain with confidence inspiring, sure footed control.

On a Carbon diet? Stem, Bars, Cranks, Deraileur, Fork Crown, Brake Levers AND Rims...

Climbing from 9,000 up to 12,000 ft on technical single track in an hour should by all rights be nothing short of an arduous epic. Yet here’s the irony, the bike carrying the same name delivered me to the summit without falter and with an ease usually reserved to the chairlift. At the core of its inline shock design is the “Brain”. Automatic suspension – there when you need it, yet firm when you don’t. It encourages you to stand and sprint the steep step; sit and power through the rock garden; and lean it over on the roots, all while holding off the hounds waiting for any mistake. This is when your bank of saved energy kicks in and you ride away for the solo victory.

With the Epic that’s what it’s all about. Crossing the finish line first, arms in the air and raising your performance bar higher and higher. If you really want to cheat just take it along for a casual ride with you mates – it’ll be like bringing a gun to a knife fight.

Camber Pro

Fun in a pure form

Short travel race bikes, Long travel trail, Enduro, Marathon, Big Mountain, Freeride, Dirt Jump… Confused? Dont know who you are anymore? Want to get back to (some) basics and just ride? Have fun, play and not fiddle, twitch or be concerned about your compression setting, or the inertia valve not being at the optimal resistance for your ride. Ohhh yeah… Give me a bike that I can throw a leg over and no matter where I’m going have it work for me, flatter my riding and leave me giggling in my sleep.

 The all new Camber from Specialized is a blast. Its 120mm is enough fully independent, active suspension to let you tame the roughest of trail up or down, yet not too much to keep you playfully alert of what’s underneath. Now don’t get me wrong this super affordable machine is very tune able to each rider, but its relative simplicity will strike a chord with all who turn its Cranks.

At its launch in Keystone, Colorado, amongst some truly testing terrain everybody from hardcore Roadies to the most skilled and courageous Freeriders (i.e. Matt Hunter) rated this humble sleek puppy the revelation of the season – what are you waiting for – they might not be avalaliable in Australia or NZ (unless you are lucky enough to live in Wanaka, come and see me) for another month or so, but when they are and your on the market I encourage you to compare this to its opposition.

Stumpjumper S-Works

That seat is slammed (for me), as all-round as a bike can be...

Ever skied powder and just had that heavenly glide down a mountainside that you know to be covered in sharp rocks underneath? That feeling of confidence and being able to throw yourself into turns knowing there’ll be a big roosting cloud of snow left behind while your ski’s track effortlessly towards the next manoeuvre.  It’s a beautiful thing and now not only can you experience it in the summer time, but you can ride it back to the top just as capably and repeat over and over again – trust me you won’t want to stop.

New "Trail" gearing and bottomless XC travel - peaches and cream

For Specialized the Stumpy is the flagship, the cover boy. It was Mike Sinyard’s first hardtail and later his first FSR design. This S-Works iteration is the pinnacle of 18 years of suspension refinement and its 140mm of Formula One in a mountain bike. Carbon fibre adorns its streamlined frame and its stiff and dampening qualities produces a solid one-like skeleton from which the bolted on technology can flawlessly absorb the trail underneath you.

With the Stumpjumper there is no other. What are your aspirations? Day long missions into the unmapped back country with 1000’s of meters vertical gain and loss – yes please. Cruising it river side, bombing fall-line descents, boosting of rocks and utilizing roughened water ruts to berm out your turns – bring it on. What about a cross country race – wait a second, excuse me? Why not, with a Brain at the rear to automatically keep your pedalling rigid fast when the going gets smooth, this thing is so versatile that it doesn’t matter whether the start line is at the top or the bottom.

Like I said, 18 years of refinement is a lot of practice. Avoid at all costs unless you want to be disappointed with your own ride.

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